What to Consider When Planning a Wildlife Pond

Tips from our resident garden designer on what to think about when creating a pond to benefit animals.

Frog
Sally Anscombe / Getty Images

A wildlife pond can be a fantastic addition to many gardens. Having a wildlife pond is one of the best ways to make sure that you are welcoming animals. This is not just the right thing to do for the ecology of your region, it is also beneficial for you as a gardener. Since when you have plenty of wildlife in your garden, it will help you to garden in a sustainable, organic way. The wildlife drawn to the water you provide will pollinate plants, add fertility, eat pest species and more. But how do you make a wildlife pond? Here are some practical tips to help you do so successfully:

Choosing a Location For a Wildlife Pond

Usually, it is best to place this kind of pond in a relatively sunny spot. However, partial shade may be beneficial to reduce algae formation (algae loves sun) and excessive water loss in the summer heat. A spot that is relatively level already will usually be easiest. It can sometimes to beneficial to map the terrain, and place a pond at a natural low-point on your property, which may already become boggy or waterlogged in wet periods.

Also think about wind direction. Avoid placing a pond where debris and fall leaves collect due to the prevailing wind. This will make maintenance more difficult. Try to place your pond in a location that is as sheltered as possible, which will make it easier for insects and other creatures to enjoy sunning themselves around pond edges.

Another important thing to think about is existing foliage and vegetation. It is not a good idea to place a wildlife pond directly below trees or completely surrounded by foliage which will drop vegetative matter into the water – the build-up can cause problems.

However, it is important to have some foliage cover up to one edge of the pond. If the area around the pond is too open, creatures may not feel safe and secure in visiting and using it. They may be too vulnerable to predation.

Of course, you should also think about safety and common sense. Households with children should make sure that young kids are not left unattended around the water (and be sure to check if there are local safety ordinances for ponds). Wildlife will prefer a quieter and more out-of-the-way area in any case, so avoid placing one too close to areas where there is a lot of activity.

When choosing the location, remember that it can bring benefits other than attracting wildlife. A pond could be positioned, for example, as part of a wildfire strategy for a property. It might be placed to alter microclimate conditions and grow warmer climate plants. It might be used in combination with rainwater harvesting, or irrigation schemes. And a wildlife pond can also be a beautiful addition – where you and your family can enjoy watching wildlife and the tranquil and attractive surroundings. So placing a pond where it can be seen from a seating area, for example, is a nice idea.

Straight on view of a mother duck and her two ducklings
Cavan Images / Getty Images

Shape and Size Considerations

A wildlife pond can come in many shapes and sizes. But there are a few essential things to bear in mind when choosing how large a pond should be and what shape it should take.

When choosing how large a pond should be, you will need to think about how much space is available. Even the smallest of ponds can make a difference in a limited space. Ideally, however, a wildlife pond should be at least 2-feet deep at the center.

The rest of the depth should vary, with the deepest section at the center of the pond, grading to shallower areas at the sides. Ideally, at least one end should shelve shallowly upwards to create a beach-like area. If your pond does not have a shallow slope to one side, you will need to create an "escape route" for any creatures that may fall in. This might involve placing rocks strategically or placing a ramp or branch leading out of the water.

However large your pond may be, it is a good idea to create it with a more natural curving shape. An irregular organic shape maximizes edge habitat, which is the most productive and biodiverse part of any ecosystem.

Make sure that the edges of the pond are level, so that water will not spill over. It might sound obvious, but remember that water will always flow downhill.

Lining a Wildlife Pond

Many people creating a pond in their gardens will opt to line the pond with a solid or flexible plastic liner. But lining a pond in plastic is not the most eco-friendly choice. Instead, consider using a more natural clay liner for your pond. On certain sites, clay might even be sourced on the property, avoiding the need for additional purchases. Clay liners are better for wildlife, are far less damaging to the environment, and won't pose a disposal problem at the end of their useful life.

Consider the Water Source

While you can simply fill a pond with water from your home, it is best to use natural rainwater wherever this is possible. Treated tap water will not always be ideal for a wildlife pond; and even where water is from a natural source, using rainwater that you harvest on your own property is often a more sustainable choice. If you are allowed to do so, taking a bucket of water from a nearby pond or natural body of fresh water in your area should help you to establish a viable pond ecosystem more quickly.

Planting and Establishment

Finally, remember that plants are essential components for a successful wildlife pond. You will need to make sure that you include a range of different plants, including marginal plants for the edges around the pond, submerged plants which oxygenate the system, plants which root at different depths within the water, and plants which float on the pond surface. Try to include as many different aquatic and marginal plants in your pond as possible. Making sure that you choose plants suited to the size and location of your pond, and for your area.